June 1, 2009

Praise Be Unto the 4th Earl of Sandwich

First there was bread ... 

Then there were meatballs ...
At  long last there was the sandwich!! 

I don’t care what anyone says: John Montagu, I love you!! There now; I’ve got it off my chest. I really shouldn’t have to explain any further. But I will.
John Montagu was the 4th Earl of Sandwich, thrice First Lord of the Admiralty in the 18th century. He was said to be a member of London’s notorious Hellfire Club and held many important posts in the British government.

He seems to have made many enemies and his reputation as an inveterate gambler and libertine may have been slightly exaggerated by prudish Victorian historians as well.

For me however, he will always stand tall among the cooking gods, because one day in the 1762 he asked his servant to put a couple of slices of cold beef between two slices of bread, thereby inventing the sandwich. And the way we eat was forever changed, a world of possibilities pressed between a couple of slices of bread is now ours to forever savor.

Let’s cue “To all the girls I’ve loved” and recall some of the great sandwiches that we’ve all spent time with. Surely a New York deli corned beef on rye with mustard must rate as one of the all time greats, its 300 grams or so of meat a tribute to the excess and the bounty of a great land.

What about the weird and wonderful Monte Cristo sandwich—ham, turkey and Swiss tucked into white bread, battered and deep fried? The full Monte is spectacular, but who could fail to be humbled in the august presence of a Philly cheesesteak sandwich—its hulking 1/2 kilo of grilled beef glowingly topped with a rich blast of yellow aerosol cheese?

Sadly England, the birthplace of the sandwich has dropped the ball with the creation of the chip butty,—a sandwich served in the green and pleasant land—boasting a fistful of fried potatoes on buttered white bread, surely one of the stranger sandwiches ever made.

As far as sandwich infamy goes, I don’t think the firefly squid and potato salad sando on white toast I once ate at an office in Tokyo has ever been matched as a truly bad example of the genre.

All of the aforementioned sandwiches have their own claims on greatness, but I propose that the greatest sandwich of all time may be the hot meatball submarine. I make this bold assertion based mostly on the fact that I want to eat one right now.

Imagine if you will, an Italian roll shaped like a submarine, the inside covered with garlicky tomato sauce, hot meatballs and molten mozzarella cheese providing more than a touch of “too much.” It is a sandwich of operatic excess.

So what are we waiting for? I may not have a grandfather named Guido, but if you follow my instructions you can still enjoy a great Italian-American sandwich.

Let’s put one together.

First let’s tackle the meatball mix. Place 200 grams of ground beef and 200 grams of ground pork in a mixing bowl. Add one half finely chopped brown onion (tama negi) 1 clove of minced garlic, 60 grams of grated parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper, 200 ml of panko breadcrumbs and one egg. Crack your knuckles, and using you hands, mash everything in the bowl together until it is well mixed. That was therapeutic wasn’t it? Now form the meatball mixture into 12 balls and set them aside somewhere in your ridiculously small kitchen where you won’t knock them over while you make the tomato sauce.

Wash your hands.

For the tomato sauce, in a casserole sauté a tablespoon of chopped garlic in olive oil until it is just browned, add a splash of red wine if you have some, if not don’t worry. Add two cans of chopped tomatoes which you have pureed in a blender. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for about five minutes.

Gently arrange your twelve meatballs in the sauce and cook covered over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the cooked meatballs rest in the sauce for about an hour.

I can’t find anything in Tokyo like an Italian-American submarine sandwich roll. It has a thin, but crisp crust that you can easily bite into without damaging yourself, or the meatball. I’m using some ciabatta from from Maison Kayser that I found in Dean & Deluca’s in Shinagawa Station. Ciabatta is rectangular bread named after a house slipper and it will do the job nicely.

Whatever you do, don’t use one of the heavier crusted French loaves. The jaw power needed to breech the crust will have sauce covered meatballs shooting across the room, or at the very least dropping onto your white jeans.

Slice your house slippers into a top and a bottom piece. Ladle some Ferrari-red sauce onto each half. Cover the bottom part of our sandwich with 1.5-centimeter-thick slices of warm meatballs. Cover the other side, or top, with thin slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. Preheat your oven and roast on a rack until the cheese is bubbling.

Be careful not to burn the bread, you are making the sandwich of the gods—this is serious business.

If you don’t have an oven, carefully toast the sandwich in your toaster oven. If you don’t have a toaster oven, well go buy one. They cost like 2,000 yen these days and humans cannot live without an occasional slice of buttered toast.

Remove your sandwich from the oven, place the cheese laden top half over the meaty bottom half, and if you are able, let it cool enough so that you can take a bite without burning your mouth.

Is it not beautiful, this sandwich? Grazie Signor Montagu, and until next time,
Ciao amici.
(This piece, which I wrote, appeared pretty much in this form in the Asahi Shimbun IHT in early 2008)


Anonymous said...

Great, funny post especially for another sandwich-lover.

I only find the American way of stuffing sandwiches with cooked meat very strange: we Italians prefer prosciutto, seasoned salame, lighter and *cold* stuff that may be heated together with the bread. But then, the US's major contribution to cooking is the hamburger...

The O.G. said...

Thanks Ludo
Yes Americans love their food big and when Italian food was transplanted there, it turned big too. You would be shocked to see an Italian American deli sandwich, luckily it's the kind of shock I can handle when I go there for a visit. ;-)